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Riverside, San Bernardino County, CA November 2, 2004 Election
Smart Voter

21st Century Women and Children in Poverty

By Marjorie Musser "Margie" Mikels

Candidate for State Senator; District 31

This information is provided by the candidate
This talk, given by Marjorie at the Human Relations Commission of the Pomona Valley, summarizes current economic plight of women and its impact on poor families.
Thank you for asking me to join together with all of you today to explore the status of women, gender discrimination and the impact on our families. It is an honor to be with you who are serving daily in the field, in the work of healing our brothers and sisters, our children, our elders, our families.

One could say women have made great progress over the past 200 or so years if you consider that under the U.S. Constitution, we were not even considered persons, and of course, had no vote. Black men who were free and property owners were at least worth 3/5 of a person, but not women.

We have progressed to the point that we may now own property, and are able to work gainfully outside of the home, instead of being merely the chattel of our masters. But equity in the work force still has not been achieved.

Jobs and Income

The wage gap between women and women stubbornly remains despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act nearly 40 years ago. Women are still not receiving equal pay for equal work, let alone equal pay for comparable work. This disparity not only affects women's spending power, it penalizes their retirement security by creating gaps in social security and pensions.

The General Accounting Office compiled date from the Current Population Survey regarding the ten industries that employ over 70 of the U.S. women workers and managers. The pay gap between full-time working women and men managers actually widened between 1995 and 2000 in seven of the ten industries examined.

A full-time working woman currently receives only 73 cents to every dollar received by a man. African-American women are paid only 65 Cents for every dollar received by a white man while Hispanic women are paid only 53 cents to the dollar.

If women received the same as men who work the same number of hours, have the same education and union status, are the same age and live in the same region of the country, then these women's annual family income would rise by $4000 and poverty rates would be cut in half. Working families would gain an astounding $200 billion in family income annually.

If there were pay equity in female-dominated jobs, (jobs in which women comprise 70 percent or more of the workforce, and where only 8.5 percent of all men work in these occupations) women's wages would increase by approximately 18 %. 55% of all women work in these female dominated jobs. Even in these jobs, men still receive 20 % more pay.

According to the U.S Labor Statistics, women are paid less in every occupational classification. In the 40 years since 1963 when the Equal Pay Act was passed women's pay has risen from 59 cents on the dollar to 73 cents on the dollar to that earned by men--but that is narrowing the wage gap by only 1/3 cent per year.

Meanwhile, the number of people living in poverty in this country is increasing every year with 1.7 million more people in poverty in 2002 than in 2001, i.e., 34.6 million people, including 12.1 million children. Over 2 years there were 3 million more poor people in 2002 than in 2000.

The news is particularly bad for single mothers. Although only 20% of all families are headed by single mothers, half of all families living in poverty are headed by single mothers. The povery rate for female-headed households is three times that of all households, and one-fifth of all homes headed by working single mothers slide below the poverty line.

As we all know, the Congressional Budget Office indicates that the gap between the rich and the poor has more than doubled from 1979 to 2000, making the disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished the largest since the 1930's.

The current administration blames these numbers on the "recession". But as Kim Gandy, president of NOW, explains, "We know that the increase is due to a deliberate government policy to encourage and reward states who kick poor women off welfare regardless of whether they have stable employment, safe and decent childcare and living conditions or are paid enough to support their families".

So now we have 34.6 million people living in poverty--mostly women and children. They say the average age of a homeless person is now nine years old.

These statistics are not because women are not educated. Women have almost achieved educational parity with men. One out of four of us have bachelor's degrees, compared with 27% of men (contrasted to 14% and 21% in 1980).

The difference is that women continue to be over-represented and employed in the support and service occupations. Every profession in which women comprise over 70% has lower wages. These occupations where we are disproportionately represented are Secretaries (98.7%), Registered nurses (91.1%), Bookkeepers, accounting auditing clerks (91.1%), social workers (73.4%), elementary school teachers (82.2)

And in the last 30 years more and more of us women are living alone, or apart from men. The number of women living alone rose from 7.3 million to 15.3 million in the last 30 years.

Women outnumber men 239 million to 133 million in 1999--with that ratio declining with age so that among people 85 and over, there are only 49 males for every 100 females.

That is very important when we begin to look at age discrimination.

Wealth Studies conducted through the United Nations show that only 1% of the world's assets are held in the name of women. There are only 5 women chief executives in the Fortune 500 corporations.

In Silicon Valley, for every 100 shares of stock options owned by a man, only one share is owned by a woman.

Political Power

  • US Senate: 13 out of 100
  • U.S. House of Reps.: 60 out of 435 or (13.8%)
  • Governors: 5/50 (10%)
  • Women in State Legislatures: Highest: 38.8 % in Washington; Lowest: 7.9% in Alabama.

So what has the current administration done to address these inequities? There has been a full-court press to promote marriage amoung low-income women, diverting millions of dollars each year from programs and services intended to help low-income people to move out of poverty, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program the welfare program for poor children and their families and child support enforcement program.

While maybe a two-parent family is best for children, this solution doesn't address spousal abuse cases, or cases where a parent is gay or lesbian and marriage is not permitted.

When it comes to poverty and sub-standard housing, food insecurity (113 million people have no food), health care (42 million of our people have no form of health care) education and low-wage and unstable employment, there is very little that more money in the pockets of the poor cannot cure. And strangely, when there is more money available, there is normally an increase in rates of marriage, and the stability of marriages.

Poverty among women is amplified by age discrimination.

People over 65 now comprise over 15% of our population, and will be increasing yearly with the aging of the baby boomers. 30% of those people have no income other than social security, and only 1% are actually self-supporting.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADE) was passed in 1967 to protect individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimnation based on age. But such discrimination continues, and women are often the brunt of such discrimination, and often have no resources to enforce their rights.

With current national fiscal policies putting our economy at risk, and social security trust funds being raided to compensate for deficits created by tax cuts to the rich and burgeoning military expenditures, we see that the plight of women is in serious danger, both for mothers with children and for women who are alone and aging.

At this same time, womens' right to choose whether they will bear children or not is under severe attack by those in power who have little inclination to provide services and basic needs to the offspring of the poor.

A culture is judged by how it treats the least powerful of its citizens.

It is vitally important that women organize politically, recognizing the power that their united vote could bring. Women united could elect representatives who care about the basic needs of all our citizens, not just wealthy campaign contributors. We must encourage more women to run for office and to speak for the voiceless poor women and children in our society. We must support candidates who place more priority on our quality of life than on creating wealth for the few.

We must help those in power to see their own self-interest in assuring all our citizens can fully participate in and share the bounty of our culture. Only when all classes have money to spend on basic goods and services, and the education they need to find a place of meaningful service in society will our economy be truly strong.

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